November 12, 2013

Worst is Yet to Come if Sequester Continues (Source: AP)
Lawmakers and budget experts say we haven't seen the worst yet from sequestration, predicting that the automatic spending cuts will be more painful next year. Any extra money government agencies were squirreling away for a rainy day have been used up in the first round of cuts, they say, but those funds are no longer available, if Congress can't come to terms on a budget before the next round kicks in. One of the areas expected to be hardest hit will be the Pentagon, which is facing cuts in training, maintenance and arms purchases. (11/12)

NASA Partners with Japan for Weather Satellite Launch (Source: Popular Mechanics)
NASA is partnering with Japan's space agency to send the Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) Core Observatory into space in February 2014. The GPM will help to map precipitation, including snow, across the world. Art Azarbarzin, GPM project manager, said the satellite will help improve weather forecasts by allowing for more-accurate five-day forecasts. (11/11)

Mars Rover Recovers From Reboot (Source:
The Mars Curiosity rover rebooted itself following a glitch last week after its handlers uploaded new flight software, NASA officials report. Despite the hiccup, its first fault-related reboot since it landed on the Red Planet last year, Curiosity is back in business, according to NASA. (11/11)

Bigelow Calls for Use of COTS Model for Cislunar Transportation (Source: NewSpace Journal)
A report prepared by Bigelow Aerospace for NASA concludes that the commercial approach that the space agency used successfully for developing commercial cargo transportation to the International Space Station should also be applied to developing transportation beyond Earth orbit, including in the vicinity of, and to the surface of, the Moon.

“America is facing a fiscal crisis of unprecedented proportions making the likelihood of increased funds for human space exploration highly unlikely,” states an advance copy of the report provided by the company. “Therefore, the only viable option for the U.S. to reach cislunar space is to leverage the efficiencies, innovations, and investments of commercial enterprises.” (11/12)

Busy Launch Schedule for Rest of 2013 (Source: Parabolic Arc)
The successful flight of a Russian Proton rocket earlier today was the 63rd orbital launch of 2013. There have been 61 successful launches and two failures: a Sea Launch Zenit crashed into the ocean shortly after liftoff in February; and a Russian Proton crashed at Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan in July.

Twenty more launches are scheduled between now and the end of the year. If all scheduled launches are conducted by the end of the year, the total worldwide orbital launches will reach 83 — one below the total in 2011. The United States has launched 15 rockets, already exceeding its total of 13 in 2012. There are seven more American launches scheduled this year, including: two ULA Atlas Vs, two SpaceX Falcon 9s, one ULA Delta IV, one Orbital Sciences Antares, and one Orbital Sciences Minotaur I. (11/12)

Two Killed at Russian Spaceport (Source: Space News)
Russian defense officials said Tuesday that two people were killed at the Plesetsk space launch facility last week while carrying out routine work cleaning out a propellant tank. Another three servicemen were hospitalized after being exposed to poisonous nitrogen vapors on Nov. 9 as they were working in the cosmodrome in the northwestern Arkhangelsk province, the Defense Ministry said. “The servicemen are in no danger of losing their lives,” the ministry said. (11/12)

Toward a National Plan for Observing our Earth (Source: White House)
The White House Office of Science & Technology Policy (OSTP) took an important next step to maximize the value of the enormous amount of data collected every day about the Earth and its many environments: a call for public input to inform the development of a blueprint for future Federal investments in this increasingly important domain.

The U.S. Government is the world’s largest single provider of Earth observations—including data and measurements collected from complex networks of satellites, ocean buoys, stream gauges, human surveys, and an array of other sophisticated tools and systems. Earth-observations data that are openly shared also fuel job-creating companies and important services used across America every day, such as weather forecasts and analyses of crops and fisheries.

In April 2013, the Obama Administration’s National Science and Technology Council released a National Strategy for Civil Earth Observations, setting a course to meet society’s most pressing Earth-data and information needs. Building on this Strategy, the Administration invites your input to inform the development of a National Plan for Civil Earth Observations. Click here. (11/12)

When is a Comet Not a Comet? (Source: Space Daily)
Astronomers using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope have observed a unique and baffling object in the asteroid belt that looks like a rotating lawn sprinkler or badminton shuttlecock. While this object is on an asteroid-like orbit, it looks like a comet, and is sending out tails of dust into space. Because nothing like this has ever been seen before, astronomers are scratching their heads to find an adequate explanation for its mysterious appearance. (11/11)

Lockheed Martin Team Tests Orion's Protective Panels (Source: Space Daily)
Testing at the Lockheed Martin Sunnyvale facility in California using a series of precisely-timed, explosive charges and mechanisms, proved the Orion spacecraft can successfully jettison its protective fairing panels. The Orion spacecraft has three fairings that protect the service module radiators and solar arrays from heat, wind and acoustics during ascent. This test was the second in a series of fairing separation tests-this time adding a thermal element.

Engineers used strip heaters to heat one of the fairings to 200 degrees Fahrenheit, simulating the temperature the spacecraft will experience during its climb to orbit. The testing revealed there was a successful separation of all three fairings while under flight-like thermal and structural conditions. The separation velocity and trajectory of each panel were within the Lockheed Martin predicted tolerances. (11/11)

SpaceX to Launch Turkmenistan's Maiden Satellite (Source: RIA Novosti)
The US ambassador to Turkmenistan said Tuesday that the Central Asian nation will launch its first ever telecommunication satellite on a private, US-made SpaceX craft in late 2014. Robert Patterson said at the Turkmen-American business forum in the capital of the energy-rich former Soviet state, Ashgabat, that the United States was eager to help the natural gas-rich nation in all spheres of development.

The satellite is expected to be launched aboard a Falcon 9 rocket. Turkmenistan has already reached an agreement with French company Thales Alenia Space to design and build the satellite. Technicians from Turkmenistan’s National Space Agency, which was created in 2011, are currently undergoing training at Thales Alenia Space plants. (11/12)

Out-of-the-World Experience for Tourists Willing to Part with $100,000 (Source: The National)
Only 560 people in the history of mankind have had a chance to see the Earth from outer space, but that number is about to increase dramatically. And one of those future astronauts will be from Dubai. Every day technological advancements are bringing the final frontier closer and closer within reach.

This time next year, Space Expedition Corporation (SXC) will be blasting off to outer space four times a day. Commercial space travel is only months away. Those who can afford the Dh367,000 ticket can sign up now for a chance at being in space next year. You can be the co-pilot of a spacecraft for one hour as you blast off into outer space. SXC, unlike many other commercial space travel companies, plans to have just you sitting next to the pilot on their craft. (11/12)

Gingrich Looks Back at 2012, Reiterates His Vision for Space Policy (Source: Space Politics)
In an interview earlier this week, former Speaker of the House and 2012 presidential candidate Newt Gingrich looked back briefly on what was one of the signature moments of his ill-fated campaign nearly two years ago: the speech he gave in Florida in January 2012 where he called for, among other goals, a human base on the Moon by 2020. The reaction that announcement got, he said this week, illustrated the problems with the current political system.

“I gave a serious speech in Florida on the Space Coast, outlining a very bold strategy,” he recalled. “I got savaged by two of my competitors, Romney and Santorum, who deliberately distorted the speech. I got ridiculed by Saturday Night Live.” He said that only one person in the media, Greta Van Susteren of Fox News, asked the “key question” about why the reaction to Gingrich’s call was far more critical than Kennedy’s famous May 1961 call to land humans on the Moon by the end of the decade.

“The American optimism of 1961 said, ‘That’s cool, let’s go do it,’” he said. “The American pessimism of 2012 said, ‘That’s absurd.’  "...When in my presidential campaign I advocated a manned base on the moon—a goal I have supported for my entire career—many in the media and in my own party howled with laughter,” he writes. “Yet building a moon base had been official government policy through most of the Bush administration and for the first two years of Obama’s presidency, until he canceled the project in 2010 following ludicrous cost overruns in the early stages.”

Gingrich: NASA is a Risk-Averse Bureaucracy (Source: Space Politics)
NASA, Gingrich writes, “was once almost synonymous with the future, but in the four decades since the moon landings, it has become one of the government’s most tragic prison guards of the past.” NASA is now a risk-averse agency, he argues, no better than any other government bureaucracy, something he says the public doesn’t understand.

“[F]or some reason it’s a little harder for Americans to believe that NASA, the agency behind moon landings and the Hubble Space Telescope, is just another bureaucracy. We don’t want to believe that they often act more like IRS agents than intrepid explorers.”

Gingrich also levels blame at big aerospace companies (“gigantic bureaucracies themselves”) and Congress. “Many of the agency’s strongest supporters in Congress have NASA centers in their districts or states, and the centers themselves are astute lobbyists for a piece of the action,” he writes. “Many of NASA’s activities, therefore, are driven by politics, not by the needs or interests of the space program.” (11/9)

Senate Bill Would Rename Dryden After Neil Armstrong (Source: Space Politics)
A California senator has introduced legislation to rename NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center after the late astronaut Neil Armstrong. S. 1636, introduced last week by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), would rename Dryden the “NASA Neil A. Armstrong Flight Research Center,” while the Western Aeronautical Test Range would become the “NASA Hugh L. Dryden Aeronautical Test Range.” News about the bill was first reported by

The bill is identical to HR 667, a bill introduced in the House in February, where it passed on a 394-0 vote on February 25. A similar bill passed in the House in the final days of the previous Congress last December, but the Senate failed to take action on it then. (11/8)

Planetary Missions Also Have to Worry About a Senior Review (Source: Space Politics)
On Monday, the head of NASA’s astrophysics division warned that tight budgets could keep the agency from continuing to fund all of its ongoing astronomy missions when they come up for review early next year. A day later, the head of NASA’s planetary science division offered a similar warning regarding planetary science missions, with the possibility that some high-profile missions may lose funding and have to shut down after 2014. (11/7)

Judge Orders NASA to Release Climate Change-Related Documents (Source: AllGov)
A climate change denial group once funded by oil giant ExxonMobil (2012 revenues: $453.123 billion) won a legal victory last week over NASA when a federal judge ordered the space agency to turn over more documents related to its 2007 revisions of global temperature data. Release of the information will have no effect on the climate change data that scientists are using to determine the extent of global warming that is occurring. (11/10)

Proton Rocket Launches Russian Military Payload (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
A Russian military communications satellite is taking a nine-hour ride to orbit overnight Monday after a smooth liftoff aboard a Proton rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome. The payload is heading for a precise delivery to a 22,300-mile-high orbit by the launcher's Breeze M upper stage. (11/11)

Stuxnet has Infected a Russian Nuclear Plant and the Space Station (Source: io9)
The problem with creating Stuxnet, the world's most sophisticated malware worm, is that it could eventually go rogue. Which is precisely what has happened. The [allegedly] US- and Israeli-built virus has spread to a Russian nuclear plant — and even the International Space Station.

It initially spreads through Microsoft Windows and targets Siemens industrial control systems. It's considered the first malware that both spies and subverts industrial systems. It's even got a programmable logic controller rootkit for the automation of electromechanical processes. This thing, with a little bit of coaxing, can actually control the operation of machines and computers it infects. (11/11)

Strange Doings on the Sun (Source: Wall Street Journal)
Something is up with the sun. Scientists say that solar activity is stranger than in a century or more, with the sun producing barely half the number of sunspots as expected and its magnetic poles oddly out of sync. The sun generates immense magnetic fields as it spins. Sunspots—often broader in diameter than Earth—mark areas of intense magnetic force that brew disruptive solar storms. These storms may abruptly lash their charged particles across millions of miles of space toward Earth, where they can short-circuit satellites, smother cellular signals or damage electrical systems.

Based on historical records, astronomers say the sun this fall ought to be nearing the explosive climax of its approximate 11-year cycle of activity—the so-called solar maximum. But this peak is "a total punk," said Jonathan Cirtain, who works at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration as project scientist for the Japanese satellite Hinode, which maps solar magnetic fields. (11/11)

Stanford Physicists Monitoring Huge Solar Event (Source: Stanford)
Every 11 years, the sun undergoes a complete makeover when the polarity of its magnetic field – its magnetic north and south – flips. The effects of this large-scale event ripple throughout the solar system. Although the exact internal mechanism that drives the shift is not entirely understood, researchers at Stanford's Wilcox Solar Observatory have monitored the sun's magnetic field on a daily basis since 1975 and can identify the process as it occurs on the sun's surface. This will be the fourth shift the observatory has monitored.

New polarity builds up throughout the 11-year solar cycle as sunspots – areas of intense magnetic activity – appear as dark blotches near the equator of the sun's surface. Over the course of about a month, sunspots disintegrate, and gradually that magnetic field migrates from the equator to one of the sun's poles. As the surviving polarity moves toward the pole, it erodes the existing, opposite polarity, said Todd Hoeksema. The magnetic field gradually reduces toward zero, and then rebounds with the opposite polarity. (11/11)

Will This New Technology Transform Astronomy? (Source: Sky & Telescope)
If I point an X-ray telescope at, say, a distant quasar for a few hours, I might get a few hundred photons if I’m lucky. Compare that with an optical image, where the same quasar might emit millions of photons. As a professor of mine once joked, X-rays are so few and far between, they should have names: “Look, there go Peter, Jill, and Harry.”

But, paradoxically, there's a benefit to that. Using detectors aboard telescopes such as ESA’s XMM-Newton or NASA’s Chandra, you really can get to know each individual photon — if not its name, then at least its energy and arrival time. In more scientific jargon, take an X-ray image, and you get both a low-resolution spectrum and a light curve for free.

Typical optical telescopes can’t do that. They use charge-coupled devices (CCDs), like the digital camera in your smartphone, to capture photons. But a CCD image is just an image — to put together a light curve, you would need to take multiple images, and to split the light by wavelength would require a spectrometer. (11/11)

Meteor Impact Trapped Ancient Swamp Plants in Glass (Source: New Scientist)
Remnants of an ancient swamp have been found preserved inside glass created during a meteorite strike. The discovery marks the first time that traces of life have been found to survive the heat and pressure of an impact, adding weight to arguments that microbes travelling on space rocks could have seeded the solar system. (11/11)

Spacecom Secures Nearly $300M in Financing for Amos-6 (Source: Space News)
Satellite fleet operator Spacecom of Israel on Nov. 10 said it had secured $293 million in loans for its future Amos-6 satellite from the Canadian and U.S. export-credit agencies, and from Amos-6 prime contractor Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI). Tel Aviv-based Spacecom selected IAI as prime contractor, but Canada’s MDA Corp. is providing the electronics payload of up to 80 Ku- and Ka-band transponders, and SpaceX is providing the launch, in 2015, aboard a Falcon 9 rocket. (11/11)

Fly Us Back to the Moon (Source: CNN)
Lady Gaga announced that she's going to sing in space. Everyone is raving about "Gravity," the new movie starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney as astronauts in orbit. And India just launched its first Mars mission on Thursday. Clearly, we Earthlings are still madly in love with space. But what about the moon? It's sad how far America has fallen in our space aspirations. So far that we can't even get into Earth orbit without help from the Russians, let alone get back to the moon.

New players are stepping into the vacuum. Google announced the Lunar X Prize in 2007, riffing off the successful Ansari XPRIZE, where private teams were challenged to build a reusable spacecraft to reach the boundary of outer space. A $20 million prize will go to the first team to land a robot on the moon that can travel 500 meters and transmit images and video. Twenty teams are still in the running. The competition expires when all the prizes have been claimed or at the end of 2015, whichever comes first.

China is likely to beat all these teams to the punch. A few weeks ago the Chinese announced that the Chang'e 3 lunar rover will be launched by the end of the year. If successful, it would be the first soft landing on the moon since the Russian Luna 24 in 1976. Less than a decade old, China's space program is well-funded and aggressive. (11/11)

NASA’s Next Satellite Will Improve Your Weather Forecast (Source: Popular Mechanics)
From its perch 250 miles above the earth, the Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) Core Observatory will refine scientists’ understanding of the Earth and its rain and snow systems. This new satellite, a partnership between NASA and Japan’s space agency JAXA, will provide accurate global precipitation data, help meteorologists make more accurate predictions during severe weather, and even improve your local forecast. (11/11)

Fireball Over Alabama Was a 'Jupiter Family Comet' (Source: Huntsville Times)
NASA says the fireball that streaked across Alabama Sunday night was a piece of a comet about as wide as a can of soda. The comet was caught on four of NASA's sky watch cameras around 7:22 p.m. CT. "It was picked up at an altitude of 55 miles moving east of south at 51,000 miles per hour," Dr. Bill Cooke, director of NASA's Meteoroid Environments Office at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, said today in an email. "It burned up at an altitude of 27 miles just south of Anniston." (11/11)

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